Human Rights Act 1998 - Introduction

The Human Rights Act came into force on 2nd October 2000 and incorporates into UK law certain rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights such as:

  • Right to Life (Article 2)
  • Protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3
  • Protection from slavery and forced or compulsory labour (Article 4)
  • The right to liberty and security of person (Article 5)
  • The right to a fair trial (Article 6)
  • Protection from retrospective criminal offences (Article 7)
  • The protection of private and family life (Article 8)
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
  • Freedom of expression (Article 10)
  • Freedom of association and assembly (Article 11)
  • The right to marry and found a family (Article 12)
  • Freedom from discrimination (Article 13)
  • The right to property (Article 1 of the first protocol)
  • The right to education (Article 2 of the first protocol)
  • The right to free and fair elections (Article 3 of the first protocol)
  • The abolition of the death penalty in peacetime (Articles 1 and 2 of the sixth protocol)
These are known as Convention rights.
They will therefore have an impact on areas such as criminal law, family law, housing law, employment law and education law.
By Article 1 of the Convention, countries who have signed up to the Convention must secure the above rights for everyone in their jurisdiction and individuals must also have an effective remedy to protect those rights in the country's courts without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights. The role of the European Court of Human Rights will be to determine whether the domestic courts have been true to the Convention.
All national courts and tribunals must take into account the caselaw of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Human Rights Act covers England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Act does not create any new criminal offences, but does apply to the criminal courts.
The Act does not take away or restrict any existing human rights recognised in a country.
The Act binds public authorities, (bodies undertaking functions of a public nature), for example, government departments, local authorities, courts, bodies running nursing and residential homes, schools etc. Those public authorities must not breach an individual's rights. It is unclear whether the Act is designed to apply in claims brought by one individual against another individual. However, it is likely that statutory interpretation may extend the rights protected by the Human Rights act across the board.
In the case of proceedings against a public authority there is a limitation period of 1 year from the date of the act complained of.
Convention rights can be waived, but only if the waiver is unequivocal and does not conflict with an important public interest.
Many of the Articles do allow rights to be breached if for example, it is in accordance with the national laws of the country or is necessary in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country or for the prevention of crime or disorder, or the protection of health or morals, or to protect the freedom and rights of others.